Jon Huntsman Jr. led from the first round of voting and came out of the state GOP convention Saturday night as many insiders expected. But he's matched against a different opponent than many anticipated Board of Regents chairman Nolan Karras, a former speaker of the Utah House.
Not known for his wide grins, Karras was all smiles and his supporters were shouting madly as party chairman Joe Cannon called Karras' name after nearly four hours of vote counting to winnow the field down from eight candidates.
And the closeness of the race 51 percent of the 3,500 delegates voted for Huntsman to Karras' 49 percent was a surprise too.
But the day also was full of sadness.
Gov. Olene Walker was knocked out of contention. Utah's first female governor is the first sitting chief executive to lose an election bid in 48 years.
"It's some relief to be going back to just being the governor," said Walker. "I would not have done anything different. I am just delighted I have a few more months to be governor."
And Merit Medical CEO Fred Lampropoulos spent more than $2 million of his own cash only to lose. Lampropoulos' fall was quick. He was considered nearly a shoo-in only days ago. As late as Friday, Lampropoulos was running radio advertisements saying "I'll see you in the primary."
It wasn't to be.
"I don't feel bad," said Lampropoulos, who finished third. "I'm going home and finish the back yard at our new house and have a swimming party. I am fine, and it was fun."
Another shocker was four-term Rep. Chris Cannon, forced into a primary with former Utah House member Matt Throckmorton in the 3rd Congressional District.
Not unexpected were the 2nd District results: Another match-up maybe as bitter as before between John Swallow and Tim Bridgewater for the chance to challenge incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson.
The convention marked the end of political comeback hopes at least for now for several other former elected officials. Former Utah House GOP heavyweights Mel Brown and Byron Harward both failed in their bids to return to the Legislature.
Former U.S. Rep. Jim Hansen, who retired after 22 years in Congress only to resurface as a GOP contender in the governor's race, finished sixth out of the eight gubernatorial candidates the first political race he's ever lost. He told delegates during the campaign that if he lost he would not run again.
And Utahns won't have current House Speaker Marty Stephens anymore. Stephens, who many considered a gubernatorial front-runner last summer, stumbled too, finishing fifth.
In the end, Walker's bid to be the first elected woman governor was sunk by a number of factors. She admits her vetoes of two controversial bills was unpopular among some GOP delegates. And her late entry in the race left her scrambling for campaign staff and money. And there was the inescapable reality that some delegates say she was too moderate.
But her campaign may have been the critical factor that pushed her good friend Karras into the primary runoff with Huntsman. Under the "instant runoff balloting" used at the convention, most of Walker's support shifted to Karras once she dropped off after the fifth round of voting. That support shot Karras past Lampropoulos into the second primary slot.
Lampropoulos and Karras were running neck and neck throughout the first six rounds of voting. That is until 65 percent of Walker's support shifted to Karras.
Walker would not say whether she endorses Karras, only that he was her friend.
Lampropoulos says there is "no question" he was the target of last-minute rumor-mongering that hurt his front-runner status, but he was philosophical about the loss and considers himself wiser for the experience, refusing to blame the rumors for his loss.
"If I decide to run again, maybe the rumors and questions would be behind us," he said. "But I am not upset. It is the way the process worked."
Karras, meanwhile, was basking in the win and pondering the thought of facing off against Huntsman, another millionaire. But the convention, Karras said, "proves that money doesn't do it all. Fred's a wonderful guy (but) he spent a lot of money and comes away empty-handed. And I don't mean that in any mean way. At some point, money doesn't work. Frankly, we'll just go with the people who know what it is like to make a mortgage payment."
Karras said it was his speech at the convention that put him over the top. "I think some people were waiting to see if we had the energy to go against a primary or against Matheson in the fall. And I think we laid those fears away."
|Deseret Morning News graphicElection face-offsRequires Adobe Acrobat.|
The rematch between Swallow and Bridgewater was not unexpected. The delegates want desperately to beat Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, who beat Swallow by less than 1 percentage point, less than 2,000 votes, two years ago.
Bridgewater criticized Swallow for that loss in his speech; as Swallow defended it. More than 42,000 people who voted for Bush in 2000 deserted the Republican Party two years later and voted for Matheson, said Bridgewater. "I will bring them home," he said.
Swallow said he is smarter politically, stronger financially and better prepared now than in 2002. Matheson won't escape him again. When a hay wagon is stuck in the mud, "you get it out one bale at a time that's what I'm doing in this campaign."
When you lose a close fight, "do you give up? Or do you come back and finish the job," Swallow said, comparing himself in his pre-speech video to Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.
After hearing the vote results, Swallow said he has $300,000 in cash and will spend what he has to in the six-week primary. "With my strong funding base, I can go back to them in the primary, again in the final against Matheson," Swallow said. He added that a recent poll had him 51-11 percent over Bridgewater among Republicans. "We're in good shape."
Bridgewater said he'll win this primary. "I'll convince the Republican voters to give me the same support as the delegates did."
Cannon said he was disappointed to face another primary his second in four re-elections. "A lot of money has come into this race from out of state all over the misinterpreted phrase 'amnesty,' " Cannon said after it was announced that he fell just short of 60 percent and would face Throckmorton, who campaigned against Cannon's stands on immigration.
Now more will come in the primary, he added. "We'll raise the money we need to get our message out."
But this primary will be tougher than the one he faced in 1998, when an unknown and under-funded Republican running from Cannon's right forced the incumbent into a primary.
"My opponent then had no money. (Throckmorton) will see a lot of money and (benefit) from the distortion" of Cannon's stands on immigration policy, Cannon said. "That was the only issue (Throckmorton) and these outside groups that support him talked about."
Throckmorton said his primary election budget is $350,000, of which only $150,000 will be cash. The rest will be in-kind donations from individuals and organizations, he said.
"I don't have a lot of money to throw around," he said. "It's been an uphill battle to get this far."
Finally, while candidate after candidate slapped Bush's No Child Left Behind federal education program, the delegates themselves never got a chance to vote against it.
Two resolutions criticized the federally mandated program. But after several long, troublesome convention votes, delegates were clearly fed up with the platform, party constitution and resolution discussions. And they voted to put off most of the items until the 2005 Republican convention.
They also killed a proposed party constitutional change that would have allowed future delegates to call back the two finalists and have one last head-to-head vote to see if one could get 60 percent of the vote and avoid a primary.
Delegates didn't even debate a proposed constitutional change that would have opened the now closed GOP primaries to unaffiliated voters those that belong to no political party.
Two final notes:
Huntsman gets the best endorsement award. Former President George H.W. Bush, in Huntsman's pre-speech video, asked Utah delegates to vote for his former ambassador to Singapore. Huntsman can be trusted, Bush said. Huntsman aides said the ex-president was approached by Jon Huntsman Sr. late last year at a Texas chemical convention, where the elder Bush was the main speaker, and asked to endorse Huntsman's son. Bush agreed.